West Philadelphians banded together on Wednesday to protest Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to the catholic school Saint Francis de Sales. Pence spoke to the school’s students in light of National School Choice Week. He was accompanied by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Deborah Rose Hinchey, Bri Golphin and Amy Cohen, along with other West Philadelphia residents, put out a call to neighborhood families, children, neighbors and LGBTQ+-identified people to voice their vehement disapproval of Pence’s appearance at the school. West Philadelphia resident Stephanie Haynes helped to organize the Facebook event announcing the protest, which was called “Love Thy LGBTQ Neighbor, West Philly.”
Queer and nonbinary community organizer Golphin brought a lot of folks to the protest, led chants and secured a sound system to be used, in only a day's time.
“It was great, especially with 24 hour’s notice, I think West Philly really came out in force to protest Pence’s visit,” Haynes said. She estimated that approximately 100-200 people made their voices heard. Toward the end of the protest, a fair number of middle-school-aged children were in attendance, Haynes added.
Droves of people sporting trans and rainbow flags marched in the vicinity of 47th Street and Windsor Avenue where Saint Francis de Sales is located. People chanted and Chelsea Downs and others banged drums while Pence’s motorcade left the area. Ian Morrison was there as his drag persona Brittany Lynn, sporting a Statue of Liberty-themed outfit.
West Philadelphia residents displayed pro-LGBTQ flags outside of their homes in solidarity. The protest took place for roughly two hours from the late morning to early afternoon; some people were on the streets as early as 10 a.m.
“I think we achieved what we set out to do today which was really make a statement about West Philly neighbors and the values of our community,” Cohen said. “I think a lot of people felt very upset that Vice President Pence was coming to West Philly. His policies are so anti-LGBTQ; they’re really harmful to queer communities.”
Over the course of his tenure as a politician, Pence has made clear his opposition to the LGBTQ community. In 2007, he voted against the Employment Non-discrimination Act; he co-sponsored a suggested amendment to the U.S. Constitution that defines marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman; he voted against the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He has verbally iterated his contempt for LGBTQ-identified people, claiming that being gay is a “choice” and “learned behavior.”
“This is where my wife and I have made our home and are raising our family,” Haynes said in a press release. “Mike Pence's bigotry flies in the face of everything we stand for and everything we are teaching our kids about loving and respecting others.”
The School Choice plan facilitates “public education funds to follow students to the schools or services that best fit their needs,” according to the organization EdChoice. These can be private, public or charter, schools, or any educational environment that parents deem suitable for their children. The federal education department plans to spend over $1 billion in public funds on President Trump’s School Choice program. Supporters of public education see this plan as a threat to public schools.
In Tuesday’s State of the Union Address, Trump welcomed Janiyah Davis, a fourth-grade student in Philadelphia, announcing that she would be awarded a scholarship to go to a private school. However, DeVos paid for this so-called scholarship out of her own pocket.
“It really felt like a slap in the face to the neighborhood for him to come there talking about School Choice when his policies don’t support the children of that school, they don’t support the children of our neighborhood, they don’t support the children of Philadelphia,” Cohen said.
“I think people just really wanted him to know that we’re watching what he’s doing and that we don’t stand for that, that we believe in making quality education accessible to all children and providing safe spaces for families in the neighborhood.”
Correction: Bri Golphin was an organizer along with Deborah Rose Hinchey and Amy Cohen.
Updated: Feb. 10. 20120